Authentic Leadership after the Footsteps of Christ

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 5th November, 2023, Church of the Epiphany Pastoral Area, Filin Dabo, Dei-Dei, Abuja, Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama

Readings: Mal. 1: 14-2, 2-10; 1 Thess. 2: 7-13, 5-11; Mt. 23: 1-12

Authentic Leadership after the Footsteps of Christ

My dear Rev. Fr. Felix Ilemona, your team of collaborators, the candidates for confirmation and the entire parishioners of Church of the Epiphany Pastoral Area, Filin Dabo, Dei-Dei, Abuja, today, I make a pastoral visit to your Church for the first time since your creation as a pastoral area one year two weeks ago. I am delighted to learn of the efforts you are making. The progress you have made so far is impressive, not because it is easy, but because you are determined. May God bless and reward each one of you.

I wish to bring you warm greetings from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who at his invitation, we all converged in Rome for a Synod on synodality that lasted for one month. You may ask what were over 300 Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, priests including lay men, women and Religious doing for one month in Rome? It was to pray, to discern and to discuss how to journey together as a Church; to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The term “Synodality,” comes from “synod” which means “walking together” in an inclusive Church where on account of baptism the youth, women, children, men, catechists, clergy and religious, participate in spiritual, pastoral and administrative duties, without leaving the affairs to the priests alone. By our baptism we are inserted into the Body of Christ, a body where the saint and the sinner coexist, and no one feels like an outcast; a home for all. This is the church of today and the future we are to build. The conversation on how to be a synodal Church shall continue until the Synod of October 2024.

On this 31st Sunday, the Church enjoins us to be faithful to the Lord and not be swayed by dangerous tendencies that undermine the message of the Gospel. In our first reading from the Prophet Malachi, the Lord issues a note of warning to those who had been appointed to be priests over His people. The prophet Malachi was one of the last prophets before the advent of the Messiah. He reproached the priests of his day for their irresponsibility in leadership, pride, laziness, defective offerings, etc. They had become lax and indifferent to their religious responsibilities and also were wanting in good moral conduct and given to hypocrisy.

The priests appointed from among the tribe of the Levites, had been responsible for the spiritual well-being of the people and they served as intermediaries between God and His people. They offered on behalf of the people the offerings and sacrifices meant for the forgiveness of their sins. However, they persisted in corrupt and wicked practices; they abused their positions of power for their own benefits; sought solely for their own profit and selfish interest. They perverted the word of God and caused the people of God to stray from the right path.

In our Gospel passage, Jesus is condemning the attitude of the Pharisees just as the attitude of the religious leaders was condemned in the first reading. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law chose to follow their flawed interpretation of the Law, focusing so much on external appearances and pious expressions, while forgetting what it truly meant to be obedient to God, to His Laws and commandments. They had not lived a life consistent with what they preached.

Today, Jesus warns us of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who represent all the bad pastors, the “men and women of God” of our time, who occupy exalted positions but show bad examples. They twist the message of eternal life for their gain and lead many astray due to their negative examples. Jesus denounced such arrogant behaviour.

Leaders, whether religious, traditional or political, must not seek to exploit, oppress, or mislead others. They must not allow the temptations of worldly glory and pleasures to distract them from their calling to serve God and those put in our custody.

In the second reading, Paul recounts how he and his companions faithfully transmitted the good news of Christ to the church of Thessalonica: “We felt so devoted towards you. We were eager to hand you not only the good news, but our whole lives while we were bringing the good news to you” (1 Thess. 2:8). They dedicated their entire lives to preaching the message of eternal life in words and actions. Paul’s idea of a nursing mother aided him in treating the people with so much love. The Thessalonians whom Paul and companions preached the word, “accepted it as God’s message and not something human” (v. 13).

We expect the same from the 25 candidates admitted to the spiritual year last week; to start training to become priests according to the mind of Christ.

The 86 candidates who will receive the sacrament of confirmation today, must keep in mind that every one of them has been entrusted with a mission to propagate the Gospel and strive to be exemplary in faith and action.

To our priests, if by any chance we resemble the priests described in the first reading and the Scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel reading, we are presented with an example of Paul who did not act out of self-interest but practiced what he preached. He did not dominate but served. He was not like the Pharisee drawing attention to himself. Our lives as priests should inspire faith in others and not to compete with the laity in the acquisition of material wealth. We appreciate the many priests, religious and laity whose life and ministry continue to inspire faith and good conduct.

Our annual Archdiocesan General Assembly begins from the 9th – 11th of November, 2023, with the theme: “Marriage and Family.” Please pray for its success, for the Holy Spirit to guide our deliberations so that strengthened in the faith, our Archdiocesan family of Abuja will continue to witness tremendous growth and remain as a family firmly rooted in Christ.

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